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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

November 16, 2007

A great deal has been going on with local rapper Bossman in the months since City Paper‘s cover story on him earlier this year. He finally ended his long, fruitless relationship with Virgin Records and Jermaine Dupri and became a free agent, released a double CD, End of Discussion, and was tapped by HBO’s The Wire to provide music for the show’s upcoming fifth season and forthcoming official soundtrack album. But perhaps the biggest move he’s made recently has been to mend fences with the Baltimore hip-hop community that he’d sometimes appeared distanced from, squashing beef and recording collaborations with a dozen other MCs, many of whom he’d never worked with before. And it was this unity-minded Bossman who headlined the first date of “The Orange and Black Tour” this past Thursday at Fletcher’s, sharing the bill with many of those rappers he’d worked with this year.

Although some artists, such as Ogun and TestMe, did their own stand-alone sets early in the night, the last two hours of the show played as one long, continuous set, with Bossman performing a few songs, giving the stage over to other MCs, then coming back for a few more.

The rapper’s mother, calling herself the Bosslady, clearly relished her role as the show’s host, sometimes to the point that the microphone had to be taken from her just to keep the night moving. Bossman and the members of his Northeast Kings crew, Dollars and Tony Manson, and their stage show have the loose, choreographed rhythm that can only be achieved by guys who’ve been performing together for years and years—the duo founded the N.E.K. in high school.

And the entire crew—along with countless hangers-on lurking about the stage throughout the night—were wearing orange and black, as were a large percentage of the audience. Bossman explained the look as a way of expressing hometown pride and an alternate to the gang colors being worn all over Baltimore these days, saying, “No disrespect to the Ravens, but the Orioles have been here forever.”

The night also served as a public reunion for estranged N.E.K. founding member href="">Heavy Gold, who left the group to go solo years ago and has been collaborating with Bossman yet again in recent months. He first arrived onstage to perform with N.E.K. on an early group track, then performed a solo set that served as a bridge to Skarr Akbar’s. As usual, Akbar commanded the stage with frightening intensity. But after he and the considerably more low-key Caddy da Don finished their performances, Bossman returned to close out the night.

For the final stretch, Bossman reached further into his back catalog than he usually does for his live show, playing several tracks from 2004′s independently released Law and Order, which first garnered him national attention and remains one of the best full-lengths from Baltimore hip-hop’s recent mini-boom. So far there aren’t any more dates scheduled for “The Orange and Black Tour,” but based on the first outing, we wouldn’t mind if every other local venue got its own stop.